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Finding the Right Support for Sweet Dreams

Get better sleep at night with a few simple tweaks to your environment and daytime habits.

Whether you have frequent sleep problems or just the occasional restless night, optimizing your environment, routine and mindset for rest can help you have sweeter dreams and higher-quality sleep.

It’s helpful to understand that several factors are at play when you snooze.

First, you have internal psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, fear, or anger. Second, you have physical health and comfort, including mattress support, hormones, vitamins/nutrition, and physical conditions. And third, you have environmental cues including light, noise and temperature.

Disruptions to any of these areas can affect how fast you fall asleep, staying asleep, and the quality of rest you get, so it’s no wonder that up to 60% of Americans report weekly sleep troubles.

In this article, we take a look at nine of the most important and controllable ways that you can set the stage for better sleep.

1. Get Active Outside During the Day
Activity and sunlight both play a role in sleep, so why not multitask and get two for one? Sunlight exposure early in the day helps keep your body’s internal sleep clock on track. Activity and exercise also helps sleep over time as well.

Research suggests
around 15 minutes of direct sunlight exposure per day to get the melatonin and Vitamin D benefits, which include better sleep, bone health, and potentially reduced risk of depression. Any increase in activity helps for people that have sedentary jobs.
One study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily helped postmenopausal women sleep an extra 45 minutes per night after four months, and another found that another study also found that consistent high levels of physical recreational activity helped sleep in middle-aged women. Stress can also help reduce stress levels according to the Mayo Clinic.

By taking a brisk walk or jog in the morning, walking the dog, parking far from the office or even a quick stroll around your yard or office campus during a break, you can get dual benefits.

2. Take a Warm Bath or Shower Close to Bed
Temperature plays a biological role in drowsiness and sleep. Typically, body temperature drops slightly as you begin to fall asleep, and studies have found that cooler temperatures (60 to 70 degrees) result in better sleep throughout the night.

In addition to keeping your room cooler at night, you can encourage this natural temperature shift with a warm bath. When you get out of the warm bath, your body temperature will drop slightly, which can help induce drowsiness. It’s best to do this within about 30 to 90 minutes when you plan to lie down. Showers can also work, but the effect is lessened.3. Institute No-Screen Time an Hour Before BedSeveral studies have concluded that televisions, electronics and indoor lighting can affect sleep at night. Bright and blue lights can impair melatonin release, thereby disrupting your natural sleep cycle and stealing rest.

Try setting an “off” time about an hour or at least 30 minutes before bed, after which TVs, computers, tablets, and phones are powered down.

To relax during this time, read a paper book or a dim e-reader that doesn’t emit blue light, write in a journal, do some light stretching, take a bath, or do any other activity that makes you feel calm and prepares you for bed.

4. Utilize Breathing and Visualization Techniques
Nearly everyone has experienced a night when stress or anxiety affected their sleep, whether related to relationships, work, school or other common stressors.

It can be helpful to know handy techniques for overcoming stress and switching gears when issues do pop up. There are many mental relaxation methods out there, so don’t give up if one doesn’t work.

Guided Relaxation
This technique involves another person or recording walking you through gradual relaxation steps, often encouraging you to breathe slowly and steadily, visualize something calming, and feel your muscles and body relax. You can also use progressive muscle relaxation techniques on your own, though some may find the guided method easier to start with.

There are several professional guided relaxation CDs and recordings, free ones on YouTube, and apps with guided sessions designed to help relax you to sleep.

Breathing Techniques
Breathe in deeply through your nose from your diaphragm and exhale slowly from your mouth for several minutes. This can help minimize stress, bring down heart rate, and put you in a more relaxed state compared to short, tense breathing.

Visualization
Lay in bed, close your eyes and begin to imagine a relaxing and calm scene. This could be a favorite place, a warm beach, a cozy cabin or anywhere that makes you feel relaxed and secure.

Focus on all of your senses, thinking about what you see in detail, what you hear, what you smell and what you feel. Spend time absorbing and exploring the scene as you allow yourself to drift inward and relax.

A recent study found visualizations help people fall asleep 20 minutes sooner than counting sheep or simply lying in bed.

5. Stretch to Relax and Destress
While exercising and being active during the day help promote more restful sleep, light stretching before bed can also help you relax and sleep better.

You could try basic stretching or other low-impact, calming movements. YouTube is a great source for free stretching exercises you can do at home.

A study in the Journal of Physiotherapy of older adults found that stretching before bed reduced nighttime leg cramps, and a
2003 study
found that stretching also helped sleep in sedentary, postmenopausal women.

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